Of the five gatecrashers known to me and many others, three of the foreigners should be of concern to guests because of their murky backgrounds, the claims they make about themselves, and their behavior.
Uninvited guests tend to follow the same modus operandi; upon arrival at the hotel where the event is held, they will survey the scene before deciding whether it’s safe to bypass the registration table without registering. They reckon that embassy staff will be unlikely to run after them and ask for their invitation card, although this does sometimes happen. They know from experience that embassy personnel are reluctant to confront a foreigner wearing a suit as he might be a high-ranking diplomat.
Sometimes the gatecrashers will enter alongside an invited guest they are acquainted with in order to ease their way into a reception without an invitation. They approach the invited guest in the lobby, and in some cases arrange to meet them beforehand over the phone. In fact, an invited guest is often permitted to bring a friend.
Some embassies don’t even check credentials, which makes it too easy for the gatecrashers, who know very well which country receptions are easy to enter and which are not.
At events where guests are carefully screened, the gatecrashers arrive long after the event has started because the embassy staff or Special Branch (SB) officers (wearing suits), who usually provide security for diplomatic receptions, may assume that they had previously entered, or left for one reason or another and then returned. The method of stamping guests’ hands as they leave the venue, as at a Motor Show, is not suitable for a diplomatic affair.
In most cases the gatecrashers find a way in. Notable exceptions include the US Independence Day, French Bastille Day celebrations, and Israel National day, all of which keep to a strict security regime.
The white-haired European
Who are these gatecrashers and freeloaders? The dean of Bangkok’s uninvited guests of diplomacy is purportedly an Austrian national who claims to be a former diplomat. Aged 60-plus and distinguished in appearance, he is easily overlooked, even if his suits have seen better days. This fellow has been seen attending receptions and other events like exhibition openings for at least 20 years. He shows up like clockwork to events with a good spread of food and alcohol if he feels there is a good chance of being admitted. He usually arrives in the hotel lobby early and changes into his suit in the lavatory. Many guests have remarked that he always wears the same dark, shabby suit and dilapidated shoes.
He can often be seen travelling around the city by BTS carrying a large black shoulder bag containing the suit. Regarded as “harmless” by diplomats and others in the know, he never offers a name card and shows no interest in talking to other guests unless approached; he’s too busy eating, from the beginning to the end of the event. When most of the guests have already left the ballroom, he can still be seen racing around serving himself one plateful after another.
He has been evicted from receptions several times during his “career.” Sometimes before entering the ballroom he can be seen chatting with other foreign gatecrashers.
One ambassador calls him a “homeless man,” adding: “He is harmless because he is just coming for the food. When I see him at my country’s reception, I have no problem letting him eat as much as he wants.” The ambassador isn’t so benevolent with certain other gatecrashers, who he says “disturb guests during and after receptions and behave suspiciously.”
Another gatecrasher is a well-dressed and intelligent middle-aged man who speaks English with a French accent. He looks successful and distinguished, but upon getting to know him this impression quickly fades. Sometimes he gives out a plain name card. He is not a big eater or drinker; he spends most of the time talking to anyone who will listen.
He tells various stories about his financial dealings, including ownership of a hotel and involvement in the oil business. He has also claimed to be a former member of the Israeli Defense Forces. He frequently complains about money he lost in a dodgy investment. Whatever the truth of his situation, the hard fact is that he attends almost every national day reception without an invitation and pushes himself on the guests. Recently he was seen chatting away with the wife of a prominent Thai who is associated with the monarchy. It’s not clear what his motive for attending receptions is. A website operated by a Jewish organization shows a photo of him posing with an orthodox Jew in a hotel ballroom in Bangkok.
This well-dressed man who speaks with an American accent began attending diplomatic receptions and other events about two years ago. He doesn’t eat much, probably because this would limit the amount of time he can converse with guests, which is clearly his priority. He walks from one group to another trying to initiate a conversation. He’s not shy about interrupting conversations. His targets are primarily ambassadors and other diplomats. He has the habit of calling guests after events and trying to set up a meeting. He also apparently tries to convince guests to invest in his company projects.
The man’s behavior is a topic of much discussion and most diplomats are on the alert when he approaches them, telling different stories about his business activities in Thailand. His nicely designed card reads: “Director” of a certain “XXX Development Fund” with an address in a well-known area of Hong Kong. At one reception he told a guest that he had “just signed a defense contract,” and tried to impress guests at another event by identifying a communications installation on Sathorn Road.
One curious diplomat called the number in Hong Kong printed on his name card. He said a rather cautious woman answered, and the following conversation ensued:
Caller: Can I talk to Mr XXX
(giving his surname)?
Woman: Who is calling?
Caller: His friend from Thailand.
He just left the office.
Caller: This is impossible because we met in Bangkok last night. Maybe the man in Bangkok is an imposter? Is Mr XXX’s first name ZZZ?
Woman: This is confidential.
Caller: Really? If I know his surname, why is his first name confidential? Well, good-bye then.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that the website of the company mentioned on the rear of the card says: “Apology for the inconvenience. Our website is under construction.’’ The card then says the company profile can be obtained upon request through an email address ending in com.hk.
The only regular Thai gatecrasher is a man said to be in the newspaper business who told a guest a few years ago that he has some kind of foundation. He eats from start to finish of the receptions. The only difference between him and the Austrian is that he races from one table to another, grabbing as much food as the plate can hold. He manages to eat at an incredible speed while walking around and talking to guests. His erratic behavior has attracted a lot of attention. “He acts like as a crazy man,” said one Thai businessman who has been observing him for some time. “He tries to chat up wealthy single ladies,” added the businessman. This may be another motive for coming to receptions, but clearly his first priority is the free food.
The fifth gatecrasher, a foreigner, sometimes gets an invitation but allegedly often turns up without one. He is rumored to be involved in intelligence gathering for foreign governments.
Over the years there have been other characters attending national day receptions without invitation to freeload or attempt to gather intelligence information by charming diplomats. One embassy in particular is said to use these occasions as a training ground for newly assigned staff.
Dodgy photographers not designated by the embassies or working for the hotel will sometimes enter receptions and take photos of guests without asking. If they are approached by the guests and requested to email the photos to them, the images rarely arrive. An exception was one Russian lady who gave a name card to a guest she photographed. He contacted her and demanded she email the photos she had taken. She complied, and the photos suggest that she had been targeting certain individuals, most probably to be identified by someone.
Over the past few months, a short Thai man wearing a blouse bearing the logo of the Royal Thai Police (RTP) has walked around filming guests indiscriminately with a video camera. It surprised many guests because he was doing it so openly. “Why not to be more discrete and use pen or a necktie with a hidden miniature camera,” asked one annoyed guest. Despite a heavy SB presence, the man was allowed to enter the venue and carry on with his filming. He hasn’t been seen recently.
Embassies differ considerably in their approach to security for their national day receptions. Some call the RTP bomb squad, who will sweep the ballroom beforehand with canines. SB officers are deployed outside and inside the ballroom if the embassy requests. Some don’t for one reason or another. The SB officers carefully examine bouquets brought in by guests or by messengers on a behalf of guests who aren’t attending. Overall, they do a good job. According to one SB officer, they can evict a person from the reception only if the host tells them to do so.
As mentioned, the American,
Australian and Israelis are known to be very strict about requiring every guest to present an invitation at functions they host. On these occasions, our five gatecrashers stay home.
YEARS ago, top Bangkok events were regularly attended by a certain Thai man known for his white suits, Cuban-heeled boots and curious hair style. Claiming to be of aristocratic stock, this man was rarely invited but never turned away by the organizers or hosts who were fully aware of his freeloading. He chose his events carefully, though, turning up only at the most prestigious occasions. As a result, he was eventually regarded as something of a ‘barometer’ of an event’s importance; if this eccentric old man didn’t attend your party, it clearly wasn’t up to scratch. Sadly, this harmless fellow hasn’t gatecrashed a party in years.